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Monday, 23 March 2009

Guest Review: Jackson On Jordan

Samantha Jackson reviews
Moonrise
by Meirion Jordan

Meirion Jordan’s Moonrise is a superbly wrought debut collection that demonstrates a masterful craftsmanship that surpasses Jordan’s years (born in 1985). Under the shadow of the moon, Jordan weaves together seemingly discordant parts, deftly transporting us from poems steeped in natural imagery such as ‘Hawthorns Blossoming’ and ‘Poppy Field’, to poems that embrace abstract realities, such as ‘Strange Memories of Death’. What’s particularly impressive about this is that it doesn’t jar, it somehow feels ‘normal’ to shift from the iron bedstead in ‘Circe and Odysseus’ through to Aftershock in ‘Pirate music’ and gypsum daises in ‘Another poem about living on Mars’. Jordan gets away with this because his poems are so exquisitely balanced and drawn. Jordan’s background as a mathematician is made clear throught his precision and he is eager for us to pay heed to this.

The very first poem, ‘Calculus’, makes a case for the powerful pairing of poetry and mathematics, through Jordan’s faultless use of mathematical terms against one of the greatest poetic backdrops of all time, the sea. There’s something of G.H. Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology in this, in which the famous mathematician argues against the perceived ugliness of mathematics and for its affinity with poetry and art. Although I can see why Jordan felt the need to establish his credentialsas a poet and mathematician from the start, it ironically works against him, in some respects. Because Jordan’s poems really are very good, starting the collection with a poem that essentially seeks to qualify his talents feels somewhat misplaced. Such a poem would work better at the end, after we’ve witnessed just how well he arranges his ‘poetic equations’, so to speak.

With this minor criticism aside, once you get past this initial self-consciousness, one of the few things that betrays his youth, poem after poem serves to showcase his ability and agility as a poet. He’s careful to keep his focus wide and expansive, like the moon. He dabbles in both the expected and unexpected, indulging us in all that we’d expect to find in a moon themed collection – wolves, owls, vampires, tombs – and all that we wouldn’t – Dan Dare, ‘The Nuclear Disaster Appreciation Society’, pirate music. As his title suggests, he really isn’t afraid to take on the moon (most new, young poets would steer far from this theme).

But Jordan doesn’t so much write under the theme of the moon, but over and above it, threading the moon through his work how and when he chooses, be it in oblique reference, ‘Saturn Five’ in ‘Sky writing’, or blatant reference, ‘scrapsof moonlight between curtain’ in ‘Still life’. In a sense, Jordan also takes on the moon in his overt inclusion of poetic influences. He shares the language of Sweeney’s Black Moon, including the angels, gulls and owls that haunt Sweeney's pages, and Auden’s influence lingers very much in Jordan’s handling of form and rhythm – he even goes as far to base part II of ‘The Birnbeck Elegy’directly on Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’. But Jordan wants this to be made clear, that his poems embrace all that went before, that, like the moon and the pull of tides, this isn’t something we can get away from. As he declares in ‘Calculus’, we must somehow ‘wear…the rhythms of the sea’, all that has been before, and from within this search the ‘backwash/for the solidus of flat stones,raising them/firm as words’ to forge something new.

Jordan undoubtedly proves he can do this. He uses each poem in Moonrise to effectively showcase his talent and define his own spaceas a talented young poet. Now he’s done this, his first ‘exhibition’ complete, it will be exciting to see what (and how) this poet/mathematician turns his accomplished hand to next.

Samantha Jackson is a poet and a commissioning editor for Pearson. She has studied English literature and creative writing at UEA, and is an active member of the poetry community in London.
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